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Stillbirth

(Fetal Death; Intrauterine Fetal Death; IUFD)

Definition

Stillbirth is the death of a fetus after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It often happens before labor begins.

Causes

Stillbirth may be caused by:

In many cases, the cause is unknown.

Risk Factors

Stillbirth is more common for women aged 35 years and older. Other things that raise the risk are:

  • Mother has health problems, such as:
  • Infection
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs during pregnancy
  • Poor prenatal care
  • History of stillbirth or miscarriage
  • More than one fetus
  • First pregnancy
  • Trauma, such as a car accident

Symptoms

Symptoms are:

  • No movement by the fetus
  • Vaginal bleeding in the mother

Diagnosis

An ultrasound exam may be done. The doctor will examine the baby and look for a heartbeat.

The ultrasound may show the cause of the stillbirth. After birth, other tests may be done to understand the cause.

Abdominal Ultrasound
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Treatment

The fetus will need to be delivered. A vaginal birth is the safest option for most. Some may need a cesarean section. The doctor will talk about options.

Labor may be started with medicine. It may be given through the vagina, as pills, or by IV. Treatment may not be needed if there are other living fetuses.

Therapy

Having a stillborn baby is traumatic. Parents will need time to grieve. A therapist or support group can help.

Prevention

Not all stillbirths can be prevented. The risk may be lowered by:

  • Going to all prenatal visits
  • Reaching and keeping a healthy weight
  • Taking prenatal supplements such as:
    • Folic acid
    • Iron, if needed
  • Not drinking, smoking, or using drugs during pregnancy
RESOURCES:

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org

American Pregnancy Association
http://www.americanpregnancy.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

Women’s Health Matters
http://www.womenshealthmatters.ca

REFERENCES:

Hammad IA, Blue NR, et al. Umbilical cord abnormalities and stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol. 2020;135(3):644-652.

Pregnancy loss. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyloss/sbtryingtounderstand.html. Accessed February 19, 2021.

Stillbirth. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/stillbirth. Accessed February 19, 2021.

Hammad IA, Blue NR, et al. Umbilical cord abnormalities and stillbirth. Obstet Gynecol. 2020;135(3):644-652.

Pregnancy loss. American Pregnancy Association website. Available at: https://americanpregnancy.org/getting-pregnant/pregnancy-complications/pregnancy-loss. Accessed February 19, 2021.

Stillbirth. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/stillbirth. Accessed February 19, 2021.

Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mary Beth Seymour, RN  Last Updated: 2/19/2021